Update of Cobb Comprehensive Plan kicks off with hearing

Cobb County government building in article about rental assistanceCobb County government building (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

Before the Cobb County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, a public hearing was held on the update of the Cobb 2040 Comprehensive Plan.

The plan and its five-year updates are mandated by state law.

The agenda packet for the meeting included the following description of the process:

To ensure that the Cobb 2040 Comprehensive Plan maintains compliance with minimum local planning standards set forth by the State of Georgia, staff has prepared a framework for updating the Plan in accordance with said standards.

Updating the Plan every five (5) years is required for the County to maintain its Qualified Local Government (QLG) status, which in turn ensures the County’s eligibility for various federal and state funding programs.

In accordance with the rules and procedures for preparing and updating comprehensive plans, as created and updated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, a public hearing to kick-off the plan update process is required.

The purpose of the hearing is to present information on the process for how the plan will be updated, including a public meeting schedule and information on other methods of collecting public input.

To open the hearing, Cobb County Community Development Director Jessica Guinn introduced Phillip Westbrook, a planner and the project manager for the Comprehensive Plan, who gave a summary of what the plan means.

“The purpose of this presentation is to inform the community about what we’re doing, the process on the update, and allow them an opportunity to comment at the conclusion of this presentation,” he said. “Before I get into the heart of the presentation, I do want to brief you on a brief history of the planning in the state.”

“The Georgia Planning Act established was was established in 1989 and provides the foundation for community and regional planning in the state,” he said. “It also gave local governments the power to plan and it gave the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) the the authority to oversee a planning process.”

“So what DCA did with with that authority was they set some guidelines, some minimum standards and procedures, on on how to guide local comprehensive planning,” Westbrook said. “Mainly what they did was they put in the standards to ensure that the plan illustrates the desires of the community, provides details on the required components of the plan, and establishes procedures on how to create maintain and adopt the plan.”

“Essentially what this does is allows the government to participate in certain programs, loan and grant programs, some of which are the CDBG (Community Development Block Grants), the Home Investment Partnership Program, bond allocation programs, and a whole host of other loan and grant programs that is critical to the operations of the county,” Westbrook said. “To become qualified to become a Qualified Local Government, of course, you have to carry out a comprehensive planning effort, adopt the plan and maintain that plan based on DCA standards.”

“Currently, Cobb County is in compliance with the QLG (Qualified Local Government) status and will be up until October 31 of next year,” he said. “And for us to expand that another five years, we need to carry out this update process.”

“So before we get into the process, I do want to make sure that we’re all on the same page as far as what the 2040 Comprehensive Plan is, what it entails,” Westbrook said. “It is essentially a long-term plan that provides an overarching vision and a desired growth strategy for the community.”

“It contains a set of needs that was determined by the community itself through community engagement,” he said. “And those needs are directly correlated to the goals and policies that are in the plan that are used as policy guidance, and provide expectations for elected officials for the community, developers, anyone interested in in the comprehensive plan and of course, there is a five year work program which is essentially action items or specific projects that are in the plan that go out five years … also to help see the vision through our part of that plan as well.”

“And of course, it is a decision-making tool,” said Westbrook.

“One thing that is not … it is not a regulating path plan, it is not a regulating code,” he said. “Again, it is merely policy guide to help move Cobb in the right direction based on community’s desires.”

Public input

When the public comment part of the hearing began, four people spoke, with three of the speakers voicing opposition to increased density.

Jan Barton, the first speaker, said that there was a “war on the suburbs,” and said, “We’re seeing proposals from some of the commissioners that indicate a very unpopular move toward dense development by enacting policies that push urban rather than suburban development.”

Commissioners comments

District 1 Commissioner Keli Gambrill asked Guinn, “I know we’re going to have one public hearing before we submit it. By chance, could we have a second one?”

“Because I know in the 2014, when I sat on that committee, we found some errors … And it had been submitted, and then it never got changed before it was finally adopted,” she said.

“So is there a chance? Because again, the residents don’t have a chance to really give their input for the board to consider it and make the modifications, because we’ve already submitted the plan for approval,” Gambrill said. “So is there a way to work in another public hearing portion of it so that way we can hear the public’s feedback before we submit the document?”

Guinn said, “Absolutely.”

“Now just for clarification, I want to be sure that everyone is aware that part of the requirements is also that we made the documents publicly available before they’re submitted,” she said.

“So whether you come to the public hearing or not, they’re made publicly available, they’ll be on the website, and we’ll advertise that where that’s available.”

She said that residents would also be able to submit comments via email.

Gambrill said the meeting in her district was December 16, during the holiday season when residents were busy.

Guinn said pushing the event later would be possible.

Gambrill asked how residents would ask questions during a scheduled videoconference meeting.

Guinn said they could submit them in the chat box for the meeting.

District 3 Commissioner JoAnn Birrell asked when a proposed stakeholder’s meeting would take place, and what would their role be. She gave the example of stakeholders taking the information back to their HOAs.

Guinn said, “Once we have those names for the stakeholder committee, we’ll go ahead and convene that group.”

“They’ll have their first meeting before we start these community meetings,” she said. “So essentially, with the stakeholder group, it’s sort of that initial sounding board for us to go say, ‘this is how we’re moving forward’.”